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We were still aiming for Luena. The road was ok but had lots of water in so called "flaques d'eau" - "Puddles". Often the road would be completely immersed. It could be less then 1 cm deep, but it might as well be 1 meter deep.
We (I ops: )had learned my lesson from yesterday so we really stopped before every obstacle. Josephine did the recce. And then we continued... carefully. It took a lot of time, but getting stuck takes a lot more time.
We came across another vehicle. Every vehicle we saw in the last few days was stuck it seems.
They were on their way to Kananga. Same directions as us. They had bought the vehicle in Lubumbashi but did not have the money to transport to Kananga, so they decided to drive. They were pretty deseperate by now as their "new" car getting damaged by the road and it took them much longer then anticipated. We would pass eachother a few times. We never knew if they made it to their destination.
There is no trough traffic at all on this traject. All transport in the area is done by train. There is an old colonial trainline between Lubumbashi and Kananga. All transport is done via this train or by air.
All in all it was a plesant day. Sun was shining (that's good because it dries out the roads), no major problems with police, and above all: it was the first day since we entered congo that we did not get ourselves stuck! What a feature! 8-)
We left at 5 this morning and arrived in Luena at 14:30. 50 km's covered.
We had received the contact details from Frère Louis via our connections in Lubumbashi. We had already called him, but unfortunately he was not home. He was at the main mission post in Kamina for some meetings. He was kind enough to inform his own mission that we were coming and to let us stay there.
And so we had a leisurely afternoon at his mission. We must say that at first we were a bit dissapointed. Thus far the missions were havens of peace and quiet. Were things were functional (sometimes) and clean (sometimes). Not so at the home of Frère Louis. He lived like the Congolese lived... in a rundown building without any comfort. He had a bathroom that hadn't seen a brush in ages,.. . It struck us as a bit odd, but later we would understand that Frère Louis is one of these rare people that does not care about himself, but only about the others. We would meet Frère Louis later on this trip and everything would become clear then.
He was well organized though. He was the only one in town with transportation
He uses this truck to get supplies from Lubumbashi to all of the project he is running in the area. The big wheels, the portle axles and the huge winch make it a capable bundybasher. It is expensive to run (fuel) so it does not see much action. He had two of these.. but one was broken.
While we were there several people came to visit. Among them was a friendly older lady. She had beautiful (homemade) clothes. She was responsible for the orphanage that was run by Frère Louis.
Her name was Henriette Raman Kitwa Jujinga. What a lovely name it is.
She told us a bit of what she did. I can no longer remember how many orphans they had, but it was enormous! She also said that there were many many more orphans that they could not help.
She invited us to visit the orphanage and suggested that maybe we could help.
We declined Our moral was low already, we were exhausted and above all we knew that they would ask us for all sorts of things we could not give to them. The only thing we would have left behind would be dissapointment.
I am looking at her phone number now in Josephines notes. I wonder how she is doing..
It rained again last night. The rainy season had really started now. Our tent is leaking badly. It seems as if every second raindrop just falls straight trough. Our mattres, pillow, etc... are all soaked. During the day it is hot and sticky. Too humid to let it all dry out. Mould is starting to form on our mattress now. Not nice..
Shortly after Luena we have to cross the Lubidi river. We were told there is a bridge, and indeed.
This would have been the end of our trip if the bridge hadn't been there
The bridges were something we were very concerned about upfront. Congo has a lot streams and rivers and we knew the roads had not seen maintenance in many many years. If a bridge broke down, that could be a major problems. Up until now however we did not have any problems with the bridges. Some of the smaller bridges might have been dodgy, but all of them were passable. Most of the large bridges were fortunately made out of steel and in reasonably good nick.
Take the bridge we just crossed for example. I find it amazing that is still there. Numerous armies have crossed the Congo in the last 20 years, chasing their enemies down to the capital. Now, I am not a military expert, but if my army was losing terrain to the enemy army and I have to retreat. The one thing I would certainly do was blow up all bridges after me. Had it happened but was the damage so small that it could easily be repaired? Or did they just not bother? Or did they lack the explosives and time to actually blow it up? Who knows.... but at least the outcome is good for us now!
After the bridge was a long climb on a hill. The road was filled with rocks the size of small cars. Josephine had to guide me trough in 1st gear low. Very technical driving.
All of a sudden we hear somebody approaching. Running. He does not even look at us and speeds past us. A few seconds later another young guy speeds past us. We stop briefly to check out what is chasing them but cannot see anything.
This is odd... very odd. Congolese man are strong and explosive. But the only time we've seen prove of their strength is when they are working. We had never seen a Congolese run... just for the fun of it.
We continued slowly and started to get worried when more men hurried past us. Something was up.
The efforts of the rocky climb were paid of with a beautiful view. We rarely had an overview of the landscape we were driving trough as there were walls of jungle on both sides of the roads. Luena can be seen below.
The road immediately went down again. Fortunately the road was in better condition.
At the bottom of the hill, were water would accumulate, there was a boghole. The "runners" were there too. We could have guessed it. They looked happy.
We gave them a hello and started exploring the possibilities. There were 3 routes that could lead trough the hole. The runners were quick to point out that we had to take the rightmost route. They claimed it was the best route and we would have no problems going trough there.
We did not even try to walk it, it was obviously the worst of the three options. Driving in there would mean we would get stuck. Not for hours, but for days.
We ignored their "advice" and started wading trough the other two options. The middle route had water up to chest height, but the underground was relatively solid. The left route was very muddy. It was not a very long patch of mud but we would have to drive on an angle and risked sliding sideways in the deep water. A tree was seperating the middle and the left route. Left seemed like the best way to go.
Once we made intentions to clear the left route of sticks one of the runners got really angry. His face turned red and he shouted. he was really upset that we did not ask them to help us. After all, "we were rich and we could pay them to help us trough".
We asked him why he was so surprised that we did not want to trust him with the duty of helping us trough after they had clearly given us false advice at first.
The "runner" now got really upset and shouted even louder, gesticulating wildly. He seemed so convinced that we did wrong to him that we thought he was about to start fighting with us. He threw a whole lot of arguments at us that did not make sense at all. This was nothing short of extortion. This is how corruption crept into normal life here. These were not officials making abuse of their power, this was a normal guy who wanted a piece of the cake that he strongly believed was his.
We got really mad at everything he said, but did not react. We were not in a position to make enemies there. The obstacle ahead of us made it quite likely that we would get ourselves stuck. We needed friends, not enemies. But we don't pay people to be our friends.
We chanced it. Josephine walked across first and gave me directions. I slowly entered the mudpit in 1st low and creeped forward. There was very little traction and I started to slide sideways into the deep water.
In a normal situation, this would the point that you stop, and reverse out again. And then try to build a dam to stop you sliding sideways and try again. But I could feel the the eyes of the angry runner in my back. I wanted to get out of here. Now!
I floored it. Mud flying everywhere. Sliding sideways I made it far enough not to slide in the deep water but hit the tree in the middle hard on the side of the car. The tree kept us upright and we plowed trough.
I could feel my hart beating wildly. Adrenaline pumping trough my veins. Josephine hopped in the car and we drove off. She was equally pumped up and we roared out our excitement. We couldn't care less about the dent.
We didn't look back at the runners when we dissapeared in the jungle.
How did a simple obstacle like this become such a nerve wrecking experience?
As said, there is no trough traffic. Everything is done by train or air. Trucks are sometimes used to transport goods to area that are further away of the railline. They usually run on a fixed traject between settlements. They never venture further.
It is also a seasonal activity. They drive until the rainy season starts and the roads become impossible.
This was the start of the rainy season. We came across a stuck truck (can you see the constant here... every vehicle we pass is stuck :wink: ). They were offloading the load onto bicycles. There are very few trucks here, and none of them wanted to take the risk to pull him out now that the rainy season had started. The truck would be here for several months until the mudpit he was in would dry out.
Upon seeing us they got a bit excited and asked for all sorts of things. Whiskey and mobile phones mostly. That was a welcome (?) change from the usual demands for "Un jus" or money. They also asked for water and we poured water from our own bottles into their bottles. We had to throw away our bottles afterwards because of the horrible smell of cheap whiskey that came out ouf their bottles.
Approaching Kamina we could see people were dressed better. They actually waved to say hello. We saw kids in school uniforms. We were nearing a major town.
We rolled into Kamina and had a warm welcome by several "frères" (Brothers), among them Frère Louis, the belgian brother that hosted us in Luena. The other frères were Croatian. They all have their missions deep in the brousse, but this week they had their annual gettogether.
The missions was big and well organized. They had all the facilities, even a workshop. They were responsible for almost everything functional in Kamina. Churches, school, farms, factories, ...
They had several trucks and each brother had his own 4x4 to sevice their mission. In these circumstance only 1 vehicle is considered.
The 40 series was discontinued and no longer had an engine.
The last few times we started the engine we could hear the batteries were having a hard time turning around the starter motor. Upon checking we noticed that the alternator was shot. The batteries would have 1 or 2 more starts in it, but then it would be finished.
This couldn't have happened in a better place ofcourse. The mechanics from the missions dismantled the alternator and found the brushes to be worn down. Spares were ofcourse not at hand, but they found an alternator from a broken down hilux and used those brushes. It worked perfectly.
Up until now this fixed alternator is still in our Landcruiser.
The guys in the workshop were really friendly and extremely proud of their jobs. Nice people!
We felt like we were in heaven at the mission. Everybody was friendly, we had the opportunity to take our first shower since leaving Lubumbashi. And they had ! Yeah!
That night we talked for hours with Frère Louis. Our little adventures here dissapear in the nothing compared to everything he went trough. He had been in DRC for over 40 years, he stayed during all the wars. He had to abandon everything and run for his live three times as teams were sent out to kill him. But he always returned. Many books could be filled with his adventures.
He is also responsible for most of the bridges Katanga. He build hundreds of bridges himself. He has a small working budget from Franciscans, but he funds most of it all by himself. He has put every last penny in the Congolese people. That is why his house in Luena was so rundown.
He also told us about the Mayi-Mayi rebels that still roam the jungle. We were not prepared for the horror stories we would hear. I still have problems giving these stories a place. They are not just stories though, he gave us a 100 page document with his interviews of victims. If you thought, like us, that cannibalism was something that belonged in comic books and dusty museums about Africa. You are wrong. :cry:
I was not sure if I was going to post this installment, but I feel it is an important part of our experience in Congo. Nevertheless:
WARNING !!! If you are a sensitive person, skip this post. You can continue reading the rest of the report and you will not even notice you did not read this post. It contains background information on DRC but it is pretty horrific to read and not for the faint hearted.
So, some excerpts out the witness stories Frère Louis gathered. The reports are mixed in Dutch and French. I will quote them and (freely) translate into English, apologies if I make mistakes. I removed the names from the documents for privacy reasons.
De broer van "Y" was in Missa gaan vissen en heeft er geweldige baldadigheden gezien zoals oren afsnijden en dan braden ze die nog in de pan en ze eten ze op in het bijzijn van die sukkels die het slachtoffer zijn en beschuldigd worden van medewerking met het Congoleese leger FAC. Er wordt nog verder gegaan met mensenvlees te eten door die May May. De broer van "Y" is kunnen vluchten naar Bukama, daar waar ik hem gezien heb.
"Y"'s brother went fishing in Missa and saw mischief like cutting of ears. They fry the ears in a pan eat them. They make the victims look at how their own ears are being fried and eaten. They are being accused of cooperation with the Congolese FAC army. The May May continue to eat humans. Y's brother managed to escape to Bukama, this is where I met him.
Originally Posted by Frère Louis
Ze doden die vier sodaten, eten hen op en dragen een hoofd van een soldaat naar Kintobongo en zetten dat ten toon op onze tafel in de missie om de millitairen te verwittigen dat ze niet mogen aanvallen en als ze dat toch riskeren dan staat hun dit te wachten
They kill those four soldiers and eat them. They then carry one of the heads of the murdered soldiers to Kintobongo and put the head on the table in our mission. They do this as warning not to attack hem, if not this is what happens.
Originally Posted by Frère Louis
..en de jagers ( vragen eten aan de vrouwen van chef Kitumba, de vrouwen zegden dat ze geen eten hadden, dan hebben ze geeist aan die vrouwen om hun haar kind te braden.
..The hunters (May-May) asked food at the woman of Chef Kitumba. The women told they did not have food. The hunters then demanded that they roast their children for them to eat.
Originally Posted by Witness
J’avais profité du moment où mes deux gardes etaient entres dans leur cabane pour manger le repas prepare a la viande d’une jeune femme que les May May venaient de tuer.
I made use of the time my two guards entered their hut to eat the meal they made out of a young woman that the MayMay just killed.
Originally Posted by Frère Louis
le commandant Bati se permet d’étaler une femme nue et au moyen d’un stylo il pointe chaque partie de l’organe intime de la femme pour les citer en dialecte. Quelle humiliation.
The commander Bati dared to display a naked woman. With a pen he pointed at every part of the "intimate organs" and told the onlookers the names in dialect. What a humiliation.
Originally Posted by Frère Louis
. Nous sommes entrain de vivre du pur et simple cannibalisme où les gens May-May mangent de la chaire ou viande fumée ou séchée des hommes, pillent, violent et tuent les populations civiles . C’est le cas d’un chef MAY MAY KABALE ,tué le 13 05 dernier par la population de Kayumba
We are living in a situation of pure and simple cannibalism. The may-may plunder, rape and kill the civilian population. They then eath their meat, raw or smoked. This is true for the May-MAy chief Kabale, who was killed recently (15/05/2006) by the population of Kayumba.
I just selected some random pages of the 131 page long document and copied these excerpt. It is an endless accumulation of horror witness reports. All of this happened on a large scale, and only covers the area where Frére Louis operates in.
When the war ended (+- 2002) most of these activities stopped in this area. The May-may retreated north where they are still operational (the East Congo drama... still going on).
These things were regularly going on until 2 years before we drove trough the area. It was still very fresh in the memory of everybody we must have met on the road. This also explains the huge amount of orphans in these areas.
Let's put this in a bit of perspective: Frère Louis told us some of these stories while we were sitting in the comforts of the Kamina mission. He told the stories as if it was a daily occurance.. and that was actually the case indeed. At that moment we were shocked, but thought this was something of the (distant) past. And it was - at least in this area. It is only until after the trip, when we started reading his document, that we started to comprehend the large scale of the massacres that had been going on here.
We were here in 2008. The last reports of cannibalism in this area were from 2006.
All of the people we met in the DRC must have been confronted, one way or another, with these horrible events.
I never heard anything about this in the international news
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